Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Heya there, Lips!

I can’t even believe Thanksgiving is over already. Um, Father Time? Could you please stop SPRINTING into the future? I’m missing all the good stuff! For example, I missed some of the best conversations before I even got to my parents’ house.

Despite now having an adorable new grandchild to dote on, a source of continued dismay for my mother remains the fact that my younger brother now lives in Chicago. He is not going to move back to Wisconsin ever, not even if extended a personal invitation by the mayor of Kewaskum, not even for a complimentary auto air freshener shaped like the Burger King’s crown. Yet this doesn’t stop my mom from trying to finagle his long-awaited and triumphant return to Beerbratistan. But deep down, even she knows that her only son would rather live in a nest made entirely from Dog the Bounty Hunter’s hair than move back to Wisconsin. Thus, she also actively campaigns for the simpler and more attainable goal of increased visits from him. Which leads us to the first memorable weekend conversation:

My mother, perfectly healthy and still-looks-only-forty-she’s-so-young, to my brother: “Well, at least you’re home now. I don’t know how many more Thanksgivings we’ll have together, because I’ll probably be DEAD soon.”

Jake: “You could always come visit me, too. Do you know that you and Dad only visited me twice since I moved to Illinois?”

Mom: “Yes, but the time we helped you move counts as two visits.”

Jake: “No, it doesn’t! I still think you should come visit me more.”

Mom: “But Jake, we don’t know how to FIND you down there!”

The second memorable conversation occurred between my darling husband and me, after I caught him staring at me with a goofy grin on his face while parked in the Culver’s drive-through lane:


“Do you know you have the thinnest upper lip? You have like, no upper lip!”

“No, I’ve never noticed that in my entire life! Thank you so much for pointing that out.”

He began to laugh.

“Cut it out!” I vainly attempted to puff-up my skinny lip, which is difficult to do without punching yourself in the face.

J continued to laugh while ordering his turtle sundae at the magi-techno-tinny-talkie box. We pulled ahead and he flipped the dome light on to count out the change. I spotted a worker staring at us from the cashier station and became suddenly paranoid about my unshowered, slovenly state. I was wearing an outfit that could have easily been accessorized with a stolen shopping cart full of garbage. My hair looked like it had been regurgitated by a cat and then combed with a tree branch. It was so filthy it had its own listing on hotels.com for tiny pigs. In fact, my hair was so thoroughly grubby I wouldn't have been surprised to find a small matchbox car up on blocks near my bangs.

“Look,” I said, “That guy is totally staring at us.”

J continued to count change for his sundae ($4.19 plus tax).

“Oh my God!” I hissed, “He hasn’t looked away for like, thirty seconds.”

J looked up and nodded toward the staring cashier. “Oh him! He’s just wondering what happened to your upper lip.’”

This was a take-off from a conversation we'd had earlier in the week, in which I overheard Jason laughing—shaking in silent, hysterical laughter, really—at me while I wrote out bills. When he wiped away the tears and could breathe normally again, he explained: “Did you know you make funny shapes with your mouth when you concentrate? You smile, and then you purse your lips. You smile, and then you purse your lips. Like this.” He proceeded to demonstrate. I proceeded to put a bag on my head.

So, from me and my weird lips to you and yours, Happy Post-Thanksgiving.

"A wise guy, eh?"

Edited to add: I'm at the Debs this Friday the 30th, blogging about family pets. Stop by and say 'hi' if you're so inclined!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Give Thanks for Mortification

I am still recovering from my weekend, which was spent in the company of two great friends (and talented writers in their own right): Manic Mom and Swishygirl. They recap the night better than I could, so for the nitty-gritty scoop, click on over.

I rolled into my parents’ place three hours after leaving Chicagoland to be greeted by the clean, refreshing scent of pig manure, which a local farmer had just freshly spread on some nearby fields. What an excellent remedy for my hangover!

The whole fam-damily had arrived for dinner, including my brother, my sister, my new nephew (he’s smiling now! *sigh*), my sister’s boyfriend, and his parents. My mother outdid herself with dinner, as she always does: white chicken chili, spicy butternut squash soup, garlic breadsticks, a romaine salad with homemade cranberry vinaigrette, and a cranberry fudge pudding cake. I’m starting to think she’s showing off, really.

The dinnertime conversation covered a range of topics, but eventually, it migrated to a perennial favorite: how ‘bad’ each person had been as a teenager. As soon as the conversation evolved in this ugly direction, I knew what was coming, and my father didn’t fail to deliver:

“We caught Jess sneaking out of the house one night when she was sixteen—”


“I heard the floorboards creaking and said, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ And she said, ‘To the bathroom.’”


“I said, ‘Hurry right back then!’”

At that point, Mom chimed in. “There was an ice storm that night, and we heard this car driving back and forth in front of the house: crackle, crackle, crackle.”

The whole table was laughing by then, and I was covering my eyes with my hands, saying things like, “Okay, end of discussion. Story’s over.”

Oh, but Dad hadn’t reached the pinnacle of the tale yet. “But first, Mom caught her blow-drying her underwear in her bedroom!!”

As this sentence hung in the air, I began to look around for a hole in the space time continuum that I could evaporate into. Maybe do a little time-traveling to Ye Olde England. I also wondered how expensive it would be to change my identity and move to Sweden.

My sister’s boyfriend’s father, recovering nicely from a head injury sustained in a bicycle accident a year ago, looked perplexed. He furrowed his brow and asked, “Why were you blow-drying your underwear?”

What could I say? Here was one possible response: “Well Duncan, I’m so glad you asked. See, I had one really cute pair of underwear, but they happened to be dirty. And when you’re planning to sneak out of the house at age sixteen to meet your boyfriend, you want to be prepared for any possible underwear-revealing situations that might arise. So I quietly washed them in the bathroom sink and then tried to dry them in my room with a hairdryer. My bad, because who knew hairdryers were so loud?”

I didn’t say that, of course. Instead I covered my face with my hands some more and said, “Oh my GOD. You will NEVER stop telling this story, will you?” Then I smacked my Dad, who was laughing like a crazy person, in the arm. My sister’s boyfriend saved the day by shifting the conversation to his own terrible youth with a story about how he kicked a girl in the stomach in grade school and subsequently got suspended, and how his older brother deflected his negative parental attention by urinating publicly in a gymnasium during a school sporting event.

So this Thanksgiving, I will give thanks that one of my worst youthful indiscretions did not involve public urination or suspension from school. Just some dirty underwear, an ice storm, and a hair dryer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Three Blogs for the Price of One

First, thanks to everyone who played along last week--some of your inmate name suggestions were the picture of hilarity. I'll be announcing the winners soon. Until then, here are three blogs for the price of one:

Blog #1: A conversation.

My mom, sighing: “I can’t wait to retire. I’m just so tired of working with people.”

My sister and me: *Nodding our heads in agreement.*

Mom: “I mean, what I’d like to do after I retire is just work with plants all day. In a nursery, or a greenhouse. Just pot up the seedlings and work with plants.”

My sister: “But mom, just because you work in a nursery doesn’t mean you won’t be working with people. Remember when I worked at that greenhouse in (that wealthy suburb)? And I had to deal with all those richy-rich snobs?”

Mom, losing heart, getting insistent: “But all I’d be doing is the planting part!”

My sister, shaking her head and making a Tough Love face: “Nope. You’d still probably have to work with people.”

My mom, frowning and dispirited: “Thanks, Maddie. Way to crush my dreams.”

Blog #2: The most exciting dream ever, a play in one act.

Monday morning I woke up from the most exciting dream ever. I dreamed I was vacuuming my office at work, for a very long time.

Blog #3: Where are they now?

Sometimes I look back on the people I’ve worked substandard part-time jobs with and wonder what they’re up to now. Sometimes I don’t even have to look back, I just have to look to the left a little, or right in front of me, because hey! There they are again! The people I earned minimum wage with in high school!

My first gig: Hostessing at Bonanza.

One of the Bonanza coworkers I most idolized was a redheaded Molly Ringwald clone. She didn’t say much to me (in fact, I don’t think she ever deigned to speak to me), but that didn’t stop me from developing a detailed fantasy friendship with her. A few years after I quit, I went to an adult bookstore with some friends. And guess who was working behind the counter, with a slab-like pit bull chained to her chair? Yep! Molly Ringwald from Bonanza! So she ended up working at an adult bookstore. (Speaking of which, do they even sell books there?) In case you’re wondering, I was there to purchase a classy confirmation gift for a dear friend.

Another of my former Bonanza coworkers ended up attending the same college as me. I’d run into him at parties, and we’d always salute one another with an enthusiastic, “Bonanza!” Only over time, it became apparent that the social circles in which we traveled had one too many intersections. So our hale and hearty cheers eventually deteriorated into lackluster nods, and years later, we’d run into each other at a bar, drunk, and think, Wow, that person really looks familiar… “Hey, didn’t you used to work at Bonanza?!”

My second gig: Selling lead-infused toys at KB

I had a whole slew of fun coworkers at KB Toys. How could I not? We earned a paycheck playing video games and shooting one another with water guns. It’s easy to have fun in that environment, even when your boss rushes up to you and pinches your upper arm hard enough to leave a bruise when he thinks you’ve been chatting with your friends for too long and need to instead push the Bumbleballs on customers because they have a terrific profit margin.

One particular coworker I will always remember, mostly because I still run into him at parties hosted by a mutual friend. Back then, he was dating a girl who (in his words) looked like Wonder Woman. She cheated on him, which he related to me one night while we straightened the game aisle. I offered some mature advice: “Well, why don’t you just cheat on her right back?”

“Oh that’s real mature,” he answered.

Years later he got married and went to Hedonism with his wife, entertaining us at parties with spicy tales from their wild adventures. Then they bought a house and had a baby and now when we get together at parties, they talk about mortgage rates and property values like the rest of us.

This Friday I'm at The Debs again, writing about my Worst Vacation Ever. Stop by and share the joy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Cover and a Contest

First, it’s time for the Unveiling of The Cover. Here it is, kids, hot off the press, from my grubby little mouse-clicking hands to your round little eyeballs! I smile every time I see it.

That cover quote is from the amazing, sharply witty Jen Lancaster, author of Bitter is the New Black and Bright Lights, Big Ass. Here’s the full text:

"Jess Riley's writing grabbed me in the very first paragraph with a Bay City Rollers reference and never let me go. Driving Sideways is a hopeful and hilarious debut and Jess Riley may well be my new favorite author."

*sigh* I love that woman. (Thank you, Jen!!!)

Also, it’s time for a contest. What kind of contest, you ask? Let’s see if you can guess. Is it:

a) a salami eating contest?
b) an eighties dance-off?
c) a staring contest?
d) Name that Inmate?

If you guessed ‘D,’ you’re correct! I’m nearing the finish line for the next novel, but I am still in need of three MALE inmate names. Yes, inmate as in ‘sentenced-to-a-medium-security-men’s-penitentiary inmate. (Trust me, it’s HILARIOUS. As in ‘Laughing with me, not at me,’ but probably at me in some cases, or maybe not laughing at all because you can’t please all the people all the time, and you can rest assured you’ll annoy at least one person in any large group, and I’m still coming to terms with this, it’s a daily struggle, really.)

So give me your best, most creative inmate name ideas! If I use them (and my publisher, uh, likes the next book enough to offer a contract), I’ll thank you in the acknowledgments and send you an advanced readers edition.

I’m going to wrap things up with a classy non-book item. From Statcounter. A Google search that led one unsuspecting individual to this site. What was he or she looking for? Why, it’s a:

"Gag gift for hemroid surgery"

Isn’t ‘hemroid’ surgery itself enough of a gag gift? What gift could possibly say, “Because your inflamed anus, so inflamed as to require surgical attention, wasn’t humiliating enough”?

If you can’t think of any inmate names, maybe you could help me out by answering THAT little question. Because truly, it has me scratching my head.